Accessing Accessions

The past week was a whirlwind of conversations and demonstrations for everyone at the Olmsted Center. One of my favorite things about working here is the inclusion across projects; while I have specific tasks to accomplish, I love hearing about and occasionally getting to sit in on projects across the office. This week, I had the chance to attend the landscape preservation workshop at Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and see a bit about how creating a maintenance plan for a historic landscape works. This too was a wonderfully inclusive project with diverse attendance from us interns to the gardener and horticulturalist all the way up to the superintendent, and it was interesting to hear how each person’s role and experiences shape their ideas about the same landscape.




Of course, it’s hard to escape your own project even on a field trip. One thing that really struck me while we were there was a call to record video of the site gardener, Mona, while she’s working because she holds an incredible wealth of experiential and narrative knowledge. Part of this desire comes from the need to preserve taxon and maintenance data, something we are trying to amend with appropriate management software, but part comes from the dynamic nature of video, especially from someone as passionate as Mona. We’ve thought a lot about being able to include photos in the database, but being able to include videos like this would be a very interesting and helpful addition. Public access to a professional speaking emphatically about landscape features adds a new level of engagement for a more diverse audience, even if they cannot physically visit.

I thought a lot more about the public power of databases this week during conversations with Michael Dosmann at the Arnold Arboretum, who among other helpful conversations about their data management shared their garden explorer app with me. After our conversation, I wandered around the arboretum and had a chance to scan many of their QR codes with my phone that produced information on the spot. I also spoke with Denis Filer, the endlessly helpful coordinator and researcher for the BRAHMS database,  who explained the careful attention paid to ease and variation in data sharing for their upcoming version. We also met with the project team this week for an update, and dynamic public access continues to be a focus of our conversations. With the incredible capabilities of data sharing these days, it’s exciting to see an interest in sharing living collections information, and the demand from the public. It’s equally exciting to consider all of this in conjunction with the National Park Service’s goals to expand access and serve a diverse audience.

Next week we’re off to John Muir National Historic Site in California for a week of field visits at the historic site along with neighboring gardens and universities. And they said “growing up” was no fun…:)

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